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Anything but fire and fury

Anything but fire and fury

The State of the Union address on 30th January 2018 by President Donald Trump was welcomed by many as a great speech in which he highlighted the achievements of his first year in office. In his speech, Trump called for unity among law makers and urged them to rise above party lines – something which went well with the American public. One would have thought that this would signal an end to political flame throwing which has so far unsettled the administration and kept it on the defensive in a perpetual firefighting mode.

Apparently not so. The book – “Fire and Fury – Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff that came out in early January of this year – has been the latest in a string of distractions for the administration. It has been a hot favorite of major television channels, social media and chatterati. The author has definitely capitalized on the wide publicity on prime-time national television and made it to best seller lists.

Some background on this book will definitely not be out of place.  Firstly, the book is well written and offers an excellent read for the discerning reader. Michael Wolff, the author, has spent a lot of time in cherry picking anecdotes and weaving them into colorful fabric to showcase to the world what he calls “the insider’s view of the Donald Trump White House”.

Michael Wolff seems to be convinced that Trump does not deserve to be the President. He is at loggerheads with Trump’s well-known penchant for undying loyalty from his team and highlights this to underscore his unsuitability for the high office. The detailed depiction of the President, his idiosyncrasies, his disbelief at being elected and the purported disdain of his close advisers may all be true. Regardless, the fact remains that, much to the disdain of media pundits and Beltway lobbyists, it is the American people who fairly and squarely elected Donald Trump and put him in office.

Wolff all along gives the impression that he had unfettered access to the White House. But former Press Secretary Dana Perino and others in the know have asserted that it is impossible for someone to be hanging around in the West Wing of the White House even with proper authorization.

The book contains much of what can be adduced as rumors, unsubstantiated anecdotes and water cooler gossips that seemed to play into the agenda of Trump’s political foes. The glaring inaccuracies, insinuations and innuendos expose the true intentions of the author.

Wolff asserts that the 25th amendment was an issue that was constantly on the mind of the White House. The 25th amendment to the US constitution provides for removal and succession to the office of the US President and Vice President in the event of death or disability of the incumbent. But Wolff admitted on national television (CBS This Morning show) that he never met anyone in the cabinet or the Vice President Mike Pence. If he did not meet or interview any of them nor was he allowed into any of the meetings of the senior leadership of the administration, how could Wolff tell that the issue was on their minds?  No wonder Wolff’s credibility has plunged.

Wolff’s reference to the purported endless discussions on the 25th amendment fueled the media narrative that portrays Trump as mentally unsound and hence unable to discharge his duties as the President. In fact, on the sets of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”, co-host Mika Brzezinski bluntly declared that she agreed with a North Korean official’s assessment that President Donald Trump is “mentally ill.”

Throughout the book, the discerning reader cannot miss Wolff’s angst and obvious inability to come to terms with the reality of Donald Trump in the highest office. The author does little to screen the obvious impression that he is an obsessive dirt rat on a mission to dig out half-truths, peddle distortions and blatant factual inaccuracies. Many pundits have expressed the view that Michael Wolff in many ways echoes the deepest disappointments of the Hillary campaign and hence it was no surprise that he became the instant darling of the liberal media.

The delectable presentation of anecdotes that appear to be no more than off-the-cuff remarks by administration insiders in unguarded moments or at the height of frustration must not be mistaken as fair impressions of a sincere author that went awry. It boils down to the work of art of someone who, in the words of Democrat Steve Rattner, the former head of President Obama’s Auto Task Force, “turned out to be an unprincipled writer of fiction”.

But what has rankled many are the outrageous insinuations that Trump and Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, were having an affair. Wolff gives no details or proof, except that the two were in private meetings. Even the liberal media which was using Wolff to take potshots at Trump, suddenly dropped him like hot potato. Mika Brzezinski abruptly ended her show with Wolf when he struggled to defend his innuendos at Ambassador Nikki Haley.

By his own admission Wolff used his proximity to Steve Bannon to open doors to the White House. Much of his writings appears to be a view of the West Wing of the White House through the eyes of Bannon. It is no surprise that in hindsight, Bannon had to leave.

But herein lies an enormous threat to the integrity of the highest office as well as the inner circle of power of the ruling dispensation from seemingly innocent book writers. Senior administration officials have exposed their lack of experience in putting in place the right checks and balances in clearing people like Michael Wolff. To that extent this episode is a costly learning process for the Trump administration. The White House must acknowledge its lapses and quickly revamp the process of providing access the highest office.

Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury too has had its two minutes of fame on national television and is now well on its way to being forgotten. The book has proved to be anything but fire and fury.

 

 

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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Media, Press, US

 

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Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

Modi’s Killer Media Strategy

It is no exaggeration that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the one among the select band of leaders– probably a cherry picked few among Indian politicians in recent memory – who have been hounded by the main stream media (MSM) – both print and electronic. In that sense, he shares a common experience and can empathize with President Donald Trump of the US. But their similarities probably end there.

The two leaders are upright public figures who take their responsibilities and public duties seriously. Both have been repeatedly pushed to the wall by the media. But their responses and how they handled MSM has been vastly different.

The all-powerful President of the US has often taken to social media – and particularly Twitter – to vent his anger against the media. He has gone so far as to brand them liars and peddlers of ‘fake’ news. His huge twitter following -32 million followers and counting – has keenly followed every minute of these exchanges.

But Prime Minister Modi’s response to an offensive media, on the other hand, has been totally different. He has not publicly uttered angry remarks or expressed his frustration on twitter. Yet Modi’s stealth, yet killer media strategy seems to have sapped the very life out of the main stream media in India. This can be vouched by discerning insights gleaned over the last few years by piecing together publicly available data on declining readership / viewership, as well as the prime-time space yielded to new players like Republic TV in the tough Indian television and entertainment market.

Ever since Modi came to the limelight as the Chief Minister of Gujarat state and started making waves, the media and his political opponents have been after him.  In hindsight, they were probably the first to correctly identify him then as a future prime minister material and set in motion their game plan to stop him.  Hence his hounding by the media and his political adversaries who often, worked hand in glove.

As a shrewd politician, Modi never had illusions about the role of the press. He had experienced first-hand how a press that was ‘friendly’ to his political opponents had almost destroyed his political career. But that was when they held complete sway on the media outlets and network infrastructure. On becoming the Prime Minister, he sought to marshal all available resources and deploy a clever strategy to gain a toe hold for his own view of the world. He embarked on one of the most comprehensive overhauls of the information dissemination machinery, rebuilding it from scratch, one brick at a time.

Barc1As with his anti-corruption drive, Modi relied heavily on technology. The range of tools he has used is mind boggling – from social media to mobile apps and everything in between.  But the real show stealer is his use of Twitter. With over 30 million followers, he has one of the biggest twitter followings in the world. Every tweet from the Prime Minister will reach an audience that is more than the combined weekly viewership of all major English news channels in India. See table below, courtesy Broadcast Audience Research council India (BARC). Most importantly, he is assured of a distortion free transmission to his target audience.

Modi has not simply stopped at building a huge following. He has engaged them creatively to sustain and retain this massive following. For example, there is a two-way flow of information as he often seeks to crowd-source ideas from them. Many have contributed topics and discussion items for Modi’s monthly radio broadcast program, Mann KI Baath. His radio address is a runaway success particularly in rural India where large numbers gather to listen to him.

The biggest coup d’état of sorts is his use of YouTube.  Videos of every public event addressed by Modi, his foreign travels, visits of dignitaries, election campaigns – all are posted to his YouTube channel. The Narendra Modi channel with over 650,000 subscribers is another huge captive viewer pool he has meticulously cultivated. This platform by itself has helped Modi take on the biased electronic media, obviating the need to commit time and resources to fight and fix distorted versions that the media in India has been dishing out for so long.

The Narendra Modi mobile app is equally powerful. With nearly 10 million downloads just of the android version, it delivers his messages directly to the mobile phone and tablets.

Modi’s personal familiarity and comfort level with information technology has been central to the evolution of this alternative media resource. In India’s political spectrum there are very few who can match or even come close. The Prime Minister’s media strategy reveals a shrewd awareness of the ingredients for success – India’s high tele-density (84%), high broadband subscription (192 million) as well as a huge younger ‘demographic dividend’ of the population. His personal political acumen knitted all this into a killer strategy that now dominates the discourse in India.

In totality, Modi has created an alternative media resource, a complete information dissemination platform and infrastructure, that has bypassed and even ignored the mainstream media. He has successfully retained the audience and slowly over the years has changed the narrative and now controls it. Modi successfully turned the tables on the media.

There are important lessons for both the media and politicians in a technology driven century. With new technological innovations popping up regularly that can disrupt existing business models or the way things ‘used to be done’, it is imperative to not take things for granted. A determined leader with a clear vision, riding on the back of disruptive technologies can usher in changes in any sphere of human endeavor – faster than many can imagine. And that could be a daunting challenge for the media. The media can no longer have a free run in pushing an agenda driven spin, for the hounded can now strike back. The spin doctors may have to pay the ultimate price of becoming irrelevant, as the Indian experience testifies. Therein lies a media lesson for President Donald Trump and other political leaders of the world.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2017 in India, Media, Modi, Press

 
 
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